Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93.
She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On,” at the Palm Springs Film Festival, according to the Desert Sun, and became ill soon after.
Ballard’s career spanned stage and screen, and she was a star on Broadway when she was paired with Arden as neighbors whose kids get married on “The Mothers-in-Law,” which ran on NBC from 1967-69 and later in syndication.
On the show Ballard played Katherine “Kaye” Josephina Buell, the overly emotional wife of Roger Buell (played by Roger C. Carmel) and overprotective mother of Jerry Buell (Jerry Fogel). She was an unenthusiastic housewife, frequently spoke in Italian, and smacked her spouse when she got annoyed with him. Kaye’s catch phrases included “Oh, Reeeeally?,” “Good luck with your mouth!” (a phrase Ballard had long used in live performance and on TV), “This, this, is the thanks I get!” and “Yes, yes, I am!”
According to a 2010 New York Times profile, the loud Italian caricature of her role in “The Mothers-in-Law” certainly “affected the rest of her career. The show wasn’t on long enough to make her rich but was on long enough to typecast her.”
After “The Mothers-in-Law,” she continued doing television work but also worked in theater and did cabaret.
From 1970-72 Ballard recurred on “The Doris Day Show” as Angie Pallucci who, with her husband (played by Bernie Kopell), ran the Italian restaurant below Doris’ apartment.
In Richard Lester’s 1976 feature adaptation of McNally’s Broadway hit “The Ritz,” about a man fleeing Mafia assassins who hides in a gay bathhouse, Ballard played Vivian Proclo, starring along with Jack Weston, Jerry Stiller and Rita Moreno.
Also in 1976 she played Coach Betsy in the Jodie Foster version of “Freaky Friday.” TV work during this time included guesting repeatedly on “Love, American Style” and later “The Love Boat” and appearing on “Alice.” In 1983 Ballard appeared as the Duchess in a PBS “Great Performances” adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”
She attempted a return to series regular television with sitcom “What a Dummy” in 1990, but its run was brief. The actress made her last screen appearance in the 2000 film “The Million Dollar Kid,” starring Richard Thomas and based on a story by Mark Twain.
Catherine Gloria Balotta was born in Cleveland. She began her career as a musical comedienne as a member of Spike Jones’ touring revue in the 1940s. Her mother had often made use of the refrain”Good luck with your mouth!” when Ballard was as child, and it became her catchphrase in live performance and on television.
She made her Broadway debut in the original musical comedy “The Golden Apple” in 1954. She starred with Anna Maria Alberghetti and Jerry Orbach in the puppet-oriented musical comedy “Carnival!” in 1962-63. In 1963 she starred in the musical revue “The Beast in Me” with Bert Convy, among others.
In 1973, after her TV work had helped raise her profile, Ballard played the title character in the original musical “Molly,” which was based on the seminal radio and TV series “The Goldbergs,” but its run was brief.
She made her screen debut in the early days of television, with appearances on “The Mel Torme Show” and “Henry Morgan’s Great Talent Hunt” in 1951. She guested repeatedly on “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “The Gary Moore Show,” “The Jack Paar Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”
Ballard made her bigscreen debut in Mitchell Leisen’s 1958 musical comedy “The Girl Most Likely,” starring Jane Powell and Cliff Robertson, and also appeared in the 1964 film “A House Is Not a Home,” starring Shelley Winters, and in the Jerry Lewis-directed “Which Way to the Front?” (1970).
In 2010 she recorded a four-CD memoir, “My Life, in My Own Words, With My Own Mouth!” Ballard starred with Liliane Montevecchi in the cabaret show “Doin’ It for Love,” which premiered in Austin, Texas, and also played in Los Angeles.
More recently, she appeared in the “Palm Springs Follies” and in several other theater productions in the desert. She served on the board of the Palm Springs Film Festival for several years and continued to be a booster for the fest throughout its history.
Ballard lived in a Rancho Mirage home once owned by her friend, Desi Arnaz, buying it from him after staying there while she worked on “The Mothers-in-Law,” which was produced by his company. The street on which she lived is now named Kaye Ballard Lane.